Charlotte-area supporters of the Affordable Care Act gathered Sunday to speak up for what they called a life-saving law and to speak out against ongoing efforts by the Republican Congress and the president-elect to gut, repeal and eventually replace it.
“We stand together today to raise the conscience of the nation and our elected representatives,” Margie Storch of Health Care Justice-North Carolina told about 150 people at the “Save Our Health Care” rally at Marshall Park. “Health care for all is fundamental to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Charlotte rally was one of many around the country Sunday. And it came just hours before the Washington Post reported Sunday night that President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that his goal is “insurance for everybody.” He told the newspaper that he was nearing completion of a plan to replace President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, but declined to reveal specifics.
In Charlotte, there were a parade of speakers, some activists, some just people worried about what might happen to themselves or their loved ones if the law goes away without a suitable alternative in place.
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Elsa Multer emerged from the crowd to share her fears if the GOP’s replacement takes the country back to a time when health insurance companies could refuse to cover people with “pre-existing conditions.” The ACA, also called Obamacare, ended that practice.
“My son was diagnosed with cancer at 15,” Multer told the crowd. “That’s a pre-existing condition. Will that mean that my son (now an adult) will never be able to get insurance? I don’t know, but I am really frightened.”
Trump and GOP congressional leaders have said they’d like to continue to protect those with pre-existing conditions – it’s one of the ACA’s most popular features. But without a detailed replacement plan ready to go, it’s uncertain whether the Republicans will be able to deliver on that promise.
Last week, the GOP-controlled Senate and House passed budgets that will pave the way to repeal the law by shielding it from filibusters and other Democratic blockades. But so far, the Republicans’ zeal to repeal the ACA has not been matched by any consensus about what should be enacted in its place – and when it would go into effect.
Though the House voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare during President Obama’s years in the White House, they do not appear to have an agreed-upon backup plan ready for Trump to sign after he takes office Friday.
That means about 20 million Americans – including more than 500,000 in North Carolina – who get their insurance through the ACA marketplace are in limbo.
“After nearly seven years of their mantra – ‘Repeal and replace’ – the dog has finally caught the car, and he has no idea what to do with it,” joked Brendan Riley of the North Carolina Justice Center.
Republicans and Trump supporters have repeatedly called the ACA a failure, citing skyrocketing premiums, high deductibles that mean higher out-of-pocket expenses and the dwindling number of participating insurers. Only one insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, offers plans through the federal marketplace in all 100 counties in the state.
On Sunday, ACA supporters preferred to focus on the millions of once-uninsured Americans who can now get medical treatment when they get sick. If they lose their insurance, they could lose their access to health care, speakers said.
“This is serious business,” said Kenneth Schorr, executive director of Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont. “Some people will get sick. … Some who are (already) sick will get sicker and stay sick longer. And some people will die.”
Those in the crowd were urged to contact their senators and representatives in Washington and suggest that members of Congress could be “repealed and replaced” if they don’t follow the ACA with a plan that is just as good or better.
One North Carolina member of Congress, Democrat Alma Adams, held a town hall meeting at a Charlotte church later Sunday on the ACA, which she supports.